Are the wrongfully convicted invisible? The press all gathers when they get released, but generally ignores our struggle when we are imprisoned. This issue has been gnawing at me all the years I have worked on wrongful convictions: Why has the civil rights community ignored the wrongfully convicted?
Talking with a small group of men who had served a hundred years in New York State prisons as a result of the Brooklyn DA and Det. Louis Scarcella- Families of the Wrongfully Convicted, – a New York Times reporter asked us if we have received support from the civil rights community, Black Lives Matter, NAACP, criminal justice reform groups? We looked at each other and of course said NO!…Never have any of us received a note, a mention or anything else from progressive civil rights groups, and we began by discussing why.
Sure all progressives support criminal justice reform, changes in federal sentencing guidelines, etc., but rarely do they utter a word about wrongful convictions. Is it not a civil rights issue? Are we the untouchables of the progressive civil rights movement? Is it because we are not all people of color, although the great majority of us are? Is it that deep inside, people don’t really understand how innocent, poor people of color get railroaded into false confessions, long prison terms, etc.?
It is not just the civil rights community, it is the progressive movement. When was the last time an elected official like Mayor Bill De Blasio or Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned the wrongfully convicted or enacted reforms to the NYPD or state police to prevent wrongful conviction. We have been holding press conferences on the steps of NY City Hall for years and never has the mayor acknowledged our plight. Granted when he came into office he facilitated the settlement with the Central Park 5, but simple reforms to police procedures like mandating custodial interrogations to prevent false confessions or live -blind police line-ups to prevent witness misidentification could be mandated today. But only silence.
Help me understand why the civil rights community shuns us? The wrongfully convicted are poor and struggling, some have prior records and most never get their convictions overturned. Most are eventually released on parole after decades in prison only to continue to suffer. Maybe deep down progressives feel like the rest of society, “there must be a good reason they are in prison.” Yes there is, ask the prosecutors, judges and police.